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Zduriencik Gone

I don't have a ton of time to write at the moment, but when the Mariners fire a GM, something must be written. Jack Zduriencik is gone as of this morning after almost seven years steering the good ship Mariner. He plugged some holes early on, but the patchwork never really stuck. For one reason or another, the team under Zduriencik was always bailing water. A couple times (2009 and 2014) they did a heck of a job bailing it. Most of the time, the boat seemed on the brink of capsizing.

Obviously, the Mariners are suffering through a disappointing season. No GM looks good in a season like this, though it is also unfair to pin all the struggles on Z. With that said, Zduriencik's credibility peaked about a year into his time with the M's (when he acquired Cliff Lee) and steadily slid ever since - maybe with a few exceptions, depending on how one feels about the Robinson Cano megadeal and how Nelson Cruz will age.

There will be time later to do a thorough post-mortem of Zduriencik's time with the Mariners. For now, I offer some thoughts from the archive that show the life and times of the Mariners under Jack Zduriencik:

  1. Zdurencik Era Begins - my take when the M's hired Zduriencik
  2. Putz Traded in Megadeal - Zduriencik's first, and likely best, trade with the Mariners
  3. Langerhans Acquired - Remember when the M's traded Mike Morse for Ryan Langerhans?
  4. Jack Z Is Santa Claus - The only other contender for best deal of Z's tenure, acquiring Cliff Lee
  5. Cliff Lee Traded - Back when Justin Smoak seemed like a good idea
  6. Fixing Figgins - In retrospect, Figgy's problems were the beginning of a common theme
  7. Fortnight Over - A reminder of some playing time issues from yesteryears
  8. Four-ish Mariners Worth Trading - None of them got traded. Zduriencik's love of hapless defenders that hit dingers is now a known thing.
  9. The Hot Mess at the Top - The first real time I turned on the Zduriencik regime
  10. Mariners Decide They Want to Field Actual Outfield - Recap of the Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia trades
  11. No Z In Defense - A look at the Trumbo deal and what it says about the M's problems
  12. Peterson's Struggles Point to Organizational Blindspot - Where I suggest that the Mariners actual harm hitters with the ways they try to develop them.
That's more than enough reading material. It's kind of fun to see the evolution of the posts. They give a feel for what it was like to live through the Jack Zduriencik era. He wasn't the worst GM the M's have ever had. He also wasn't the best. The Mariners are better now than they were before he took over but there is plenty of room for improvement.

Z-No Paradox

The Mariners are on quite a roll these days. They had a pitcher earn AL Pitcher of the Week honors in a week where the staff got so ravaged in Boston that they had to make a bullpen move before starting the series last night in Texas. Of course, when 'Kuma throws a no-hitter, the award is warranted. Then, last night, Fernando Rodney issues maybe the most infuriating of all ways to lose - the walk-off walk. Just stand there, Rangers, and be handed the victory.*

*True to the blue!

Seasons likes this lead to rumors of leadership changes. This is the predictable ebb and flow of baseball. So, naturally, rumors of Jack Zduriencik's demise are swirling. It helps that there have been whispers here and there for several years now, though these are some of the loudest whispers yet. The latest, likely most concrete, rumor comes from Ken Rosenthal this morning:
The Mariners have not made a decision on whether to retain GM Jack Zduriencik, but sources say they are in the “contemplation phase,” pondering whether to make such a move.
There isn't too much juicy in this rumor, other than the phrase "contemplation phase." That's something I need to work into my everyday life.

"Sir, are you ready to order lunch?"

"Give me a few more minutes. I'm still in the contemplation phase."

"Are you in line?"

"No, I'm in a contemplation phase, you can go ahead of me."

"Mr. Chalberg, have you written the test yet?"

"No, it's still in the contemplation phase. I am pondering the inclusion of a few problems."

Life choices sound so much more important and impactful when they have a contemplation phase. Anyway, the Mariners ought to be in a contemplation phase with the way this season has gone and how the Zduriencik era seems to be trending.

The biggest problem, in my estimation, is that Jack Zduriencik is a mediocre general manager. He is neither great nor terrible, which means there will always be some justifiable pressure to let go of of him, and also some justifiable reasoning to retain him. His trades are, overall, fine - certainly better than Bill Bavasi's wheeling and dealing before him. Z's free agent acquisitions have also largely turned out okay. I would even argue that Zduriencik has done a good job drafting.

Zduriencik's fatal flaws are questionable roster construction (example: acquiring a redundant Mark Trumbo for a needed capable catcher in Wellington Castillo. In terms of trade value, more than fair, but it was a bad decision looking at the skills on the roster) and lackluster player development. I distinguish between drafting and player development because lots of people outside the Mariners organization thought guys like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero were great prospects. The fact that many seem to inexplicably flame out points to a player development problem, not an inability to find talent in the first place.

All in all, I think Zduriencik's strengths and weaknesses balance themselves out. I know the Mariners have lost more than they have won under his leadership but the cupboard was frighteningly bare when he took the job. The Mariners are in better position now than when Zduriencik took the job, though they only seem to be trending towards mediocrity.

There is one man on the open market who seems like a natural fit: Dave Dombrowski. The Tigers cut him loose earlier this season after a long, successful run - but not quite successful enough for owner Mike Ilitch. He desired a World Championship because he is a rare "old school" owner. Ilitch is aging and places winning above profit margins with his sports franchises. Dombrowski's Tigers did more than their fair share of winning, which included a few trips to the World Series, but the eruption of the Royals the last few years makes it appear like Detroit's window with Dombrowski had closed. So, out he goes. It was World Series or bust in Detroit.

Still, Dombrowski is a heck of a catch. It is still hard to pin good valuations on GMs, but data-driven attempts and softer, anecdotal attempts both regard him as an above-average general manager. Moreover, the payrolls of the Tigers and Mariners are not all that different from one another. Seattle, on paper, looks like the kind of place where Dombrowski could duplicate his success in Detroit with minimal tweaking to his process and strategies. Dombrowski would seem to safely be an upgrade over Zduriencik.

I don't know what kinds of factors the Mariners are weighing in their "contemplation phase," but I don't mind them thinking before acting. However, if I could sit in the room with some influence, I would push to relieve Jack Zduriencik of his duties right now and go after Dave Dombrowski immediately. Few teams are in position to fire their GMs right now. The Mariners could get a jump on the market and be the first to offer Dombrowski a job. If he accepts, then he has a month or so to watch the team firsthand before the season is over, and then another month through the playoffs to create an offseason plan. It would put him and the Mariners in better position to succeed.

The risk is that Dombrowski rejects the M's overtures. However, if that happens, then the Mariners have between now and the end of the season to make a list of GM candidates. Moreover, potential candidates will know there is an opportunity in Seattle. The Mariners would form the GM market. This does not guarantee they will find an improvement over Zduriencik, but it should improve their chances of finding the strongest replacement possible.

Contemplating is good. It is an activity I endorse in many walks of life. However, the Mariners could contemplate their way into a corner if this contemplation phase drags on a while. There is strategic leverage to be gained if the Mariners pull the trigger and fire Zduriencik now, but that advantage closes a little more every day. If the Mariners think about this forever, then the best option will be to keep Zduriencik, whether the Mariners decide they are open to a new direction or not.

What The

The Mariners, a bad but not horrible team, have entered the dog days of August. This is a rough stretch, arguably the roughest as a fan. There are no September call-ups yet and no pennant chases to spoil quite yet either - just ballgame after ballgame to play. The games can feel awfully pointless this time of year with the playoffs rather safely ahead of the Mariners on the Pennant Chase Highway and heavy traffic between them and October that even the craziest motorcyclist couldn't zip through.

I had a couple ideas for posts to pass the time these dog days, just before teaching consumes approximately 87% more of my life* than it has the past few months. Franklin Gutierrez's rebirth is a nice story. Maybe that will still be a post. I made it to a pair of Rainiers games this week, and a few game write-ups seemed appropriate too.

*76% of stats are made up.

This morning I ventured to my parents' place for a little dog-sitting, and by dog-sitting I mean watching their faithful beagle snooze until nature calls every few hours or so. It's a painfully hard gig, especially when satellite television on an HDTV is involved on a Happy Felix Day. I settled in for some relaxing, enjoyable morning baseball.

About that.

I don't know what to do besides vomit some words on the internet about this week in Mariners baseball. Actually, when I say week, I really just mean from Wednesday to this afternoon. So, here we go: a first person account (insider perspective?) on experiencing the 2015 Mariners at such a meaningless moment in the season.

I went to the Rainiers game on Wednesday. It started at 11:35am, which was half the fun. I am a teacher on break and I try to do things that I can do just because I am a teacher. Going to a baseball game that starts in the morning midweek is the quintessential example of one of those things. I wanted to see who else attends this kind of game.

The tarp coming off at Cheney stadium around noon on Wednesday.
The answer: kids.

Lots of kids.

Lots of kids in groups.

Lots of kids in groups in neon shirts. Electric aqua as far as the eye could see. Moreover, a fluke thunderstorm erupted over Tacoma that morning before the game started, but not all that long before the game started. I parked and could sense something was off immediately. I saw lots of cars, a convoy of yellow school buses, and nobody in the stands. Where was everyone?

I entered the ballpark to a flood of youngsters sitting criss-cross-applesauce all around the main concourse. They were orderly, and I don't know what else any of them could do given how exposed the seats are to lightning. Still, it was weird, unlike anything I've ever seen at a baseball stadium. The scene eerily reminded me of when my school evacuated our building after the Nisqually earthquake hit in 2001, except with Ivar's clam chowder instead of granola bars and juice boxes. I secretly thought to myself that I suppose I had got what I went to that game for - a unique experience. Ballgames on Wednesdays at 11:35am should have something odd about them.

The Rainiers game eventually got underway and the game was largely forgettable. Jordan Pries got hit as he peppered the strike zone and the Rainiers lost. I drove home and along the way a friend texted me and alerted me to the Mariners game. They also were playing a matinee. I turned on the radio and caught the ninth inning of Hisashi Iwakuma's no-hitter.

Thursday was an off-day for the Mariners as they traveled to Boston for a weekend series with the Red Sox. Friday night found me back at Cheney Stadium with several co-workers for a fun time. Of course, as luck would have it, the skies dumped rain for the first time all summer and the game started late. The weather cleared up by first pitch, but everything remained drenched and a chilly breeze swirled the afternoon's aftermath around just enough to numb fingers and toes. In other words, it was an idyllic night for an old-fashioned, American ballgame.

The weather held, but the Rainiers did not. They got down early, rallied a few times, yet always coughed up some more runs when they threatened to make the game interesting. The game added injury to insult when centerfielder Ramon Flores crumpled lifeless on the warning track as he ran to recover a double. Jabari Blash threw the ball back in and then vigorously motioned for the training staff to hurry out. Flores got carted off and after a little while an ambulance with lights on could be seen leaving the stadium beyond the outfield walls. Reports this morning are that Flores suffered a compound ankle fracture and is done for the season. That's easy to believe after watching the injury unfold.

Then I got home and saw the Seahawks had lost with a handful of injuries, most notably Tarvaris Jackson's sprained ankle. The Mariners got humiliated in Boston 15-1 too. Happy Friday.

Fun fact: I am a card-carrying member of the cord-cutting generation. I could afford TV, but in my estimation I don't watch it enough to justify the expense. I miss live sports the most, kind of. I have ways of watching live sports. It's called having friends, family, and good sports bars. I am also a sucker for baseball on the radio. I do just fine.

Still, I was looking forward to watching the Mariners game this morning. Felix on the mound after a drubbing, and an overall bad sports Friday in general, felt like a recipe for success. I suppose most Mariner fans felt good about this game, but as a person who has seen more baseball games in person than on TV this year, I perhaps was a little more excited to see this morning's game.

Needless to say, I was crushed - maybe not crushed as hard as Felix got crushed today, but crushed. The game was so bad, but at least it was so bad it got good. When the Red Sox had built a 19-2 lead I started wondering just how historic the rout was, especially on the heels of a 15-1 drubbing. I started finding all sort of the M's worst routs in franchise history. Then Jesus Sucre warmed up and got in the ballgame!

Today wasn't just a bad game, it was historically bad, and as far as I'm concerned, history is still history. The Mariners have never given up more runs in a game than today. They have never given more runs in back-to-back games than the last few games. They have never been beat by a larger combined margin than the last two games. The fact that both of these clunkers came immediately on the heels of the fifth no-hitter in franchise history makes it seem that much more amazing. Talk about a study in contrasts.

Baseball might have one of the stronger feedback effects of any sport when it comes to watching and following a sport as a fan. If you are into baseball, the things unique to baseball make you lean even farther in; if baseball isn't your thing than those same idiosyncrasies push you farther away. I love that something special like a no-hitter is always possible, even in the middle of the day in the middle of August in a lost season. I love it when position players pitch. Baseball haters can rightfully argue that the only reason baseball has more random great moments in games simply because so many games get played, and that no other sport creates such farcical situations where players are so horribly out of position when guys pitch that don't pitch, or hit that don't hit (looking at you, National League, and for the record I hope you don't add a designated hitter ever.) These are things unique to the game, for better and for worse. They are for better in my eyes.

I am not sure there is much meaning or a deeper message to glean from this week in Mariners history, but if there is, I suppose it is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is a stretch of games I will remember for a long time. I find that satisfying on some level, even if all the results are not satisfying at all. I take what I can get with the 2015 Mariners.

2015 Trade Deadline Belongs to Sellers

I wrote a month ago about how the Mariners could exploit the trade deadline market. The Mariners have a number of impending free agents, who often do not command much in deadline deals, but there was a belief a month ago that this deadline market would favor sellers. This was because of simple supply and demand: few teams would be selling, many buying, given the parody in the American League.

The M's impending free agents aren't really stars. Their most interesting pieces are probably Austin Jackson and Hisashi Iwakuma. Players with value, but not at the same level as fellow rentals David Price and Scott Kazmir. However, many non-stars have already been traded. Did a seller's market emerge? Here are the trades of non-stars, mostly with expiring contracts, so far:
  • 1B Brandon Moss for LHP Rob Kaminsky - Moss might have more appeal than a guy like Austin Jackson, but that's debatable. Moss offers power and little else this season. Kaminsky is a lefty who was a first round draft pick in 2013 out of high school, and while he's still a ways away from the major leagues, he has a 2.15 ERA in 217.1 career minor league innings. He is a bona fide prospect.
  • 3B Aramis Ramirez for RHP Yhonathan Barrios - Ramirez is a 37-year-old impending free agent with just enough of a bat left to make him a nice bench option or below-average starter. Barrios is a diminuitive 23-year-old reliever with less-than-ideal control. Most likely provides organizational depth.
  • OF Yoenis Cespedes for RHP Michael Fulmer and RHP Luis Cessa - Cespedes is in the middle of his best year yet, and has incredible power, to say the least. He is also a free agent at the end of the year. Fulmer is a 22-year-old working his way through the minors with a heavy sinker that makes him a fairly safe bet to reach the majors as an effective starter. Cessa just reached AAA, and has decent minor league numbers. He could crack an MLB roster at some point, but may also linger in AAA as organizational depth too. The jewel here is Fulmer for sure.
  • OF Gerardo Parra for RHP Zach Davies - Parra is an underrated outfielder enjoying his best hitting season of his career and slated to hit free agency this offseason. Davies is a legit starting pitching prospect who might be ready for the majors right now.
  • OF Shane Victorino for INF Josh Rutledge - Victorino is an aging outfielder who the Angels hope they can platoon to squeeze some value out of. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. Rutledge should not be a starter, but is a decent option as a reserve middle infielder. Might be a AAAA player though.
  • OF David DeJesus for RHP Eduar Lopez - DeJesus is a 35-year-old best suited for the bench or maybe a platoon role. He will either be a free agent after this season or not. He comes with a $5 million team option for 2016. He's probably a rental though. Lopez is a 20-year-old hurler with high strikeout and walk totals in Rookie league. A raw project with some upside.
  • RHP Mike Leake for 3B Adam Duvall and RHP Keury Mella - Leake is a young, dependable innings-eater who will hit free agency at the end of this season. Duvall is probably a AAAA slugger at this point. Mella was considered the Giants best pitching prospect and is enjoying a strong season in A ball.
  • RHP Dan Haren for INF Elliot Soto and RHP Ivan Pineyro - Haren used to be great, but now is more of an innings-eater at the end of a rotation. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. Soto is the definition of a scrappy middle infielder who projects as organizational depth. Pineyro is 25 years old with solid AA numbers. Maybe he's a middle reliever, maybe he's organizational depth.
  • RHP Tyler Clippard for RHP Casey Meisner - Clippard's best days are likely behind him, but he is still an above-average reliever. He is also slated for free agency. Meisner is a tall, lanky, 20-year-old, though one with a career 2.89 ERA in over 200 minor league innings. He's a ways away, but a legitimate pitching prospect.
  • RHP Steve Cishek for RHP Kyle Barraclough - Cishek is a candidate to rebound from a disappointing season after being one of the better relievers in baseball the last few seasons. Barraclough has excellent minor league numbers, though he has been old for his league at every stop. Hard to tell if he is MLB material or not, though we should find out very soon.
  • RHP Jonathan Broxton for OF Malik Collymore - Broxton has a bloated ERA though peripheral stats that suggest bad luck, plus a long history of decent-to-great bullpen pitching in previous seasons. He will likely be a free agent after this season, though he has a $9 million option year for 2016 that theoretically could get picked up. Collymore is a 20-year-old outfielder yet to make it out of Rookie league. He's the definition of a raw, long-term prospect.
There aren't many veterans on this list with contract guarantees beyond this year. These are true rentals. I also omitted the blockbuster deals that involved stars and/or younger players with several years of team control. These are the deals that involved contending teams acquiring rental role players to round out their rosters.

The returns aren't eye-popping, but indicate a seller's market. Trades routinely included players producing in AA and AAA. A few deals involved players in A ball that are heralded prospects (Kaminsky and Mella). Overall, the going price for a rental was clearly a bona fide MLB prospect - maybe not a sexy, impact, upper-level prospect, but a prospect nonetheless.

I wouldn't say sellers fleeced buyers in this market. All of the players "sold" provide value to contenders. However, these are some abnormally nice returns. Impending free agents on non-contending teams have virtually no value for their current teams. This is why they fetch meager returns many years. There is little reason for non-contending teams to hold on to these players, so it tends to take a minimal prospect package for a contender to pry them away.

This year was different though. The most logical explanation would be all the teams contending. There were many more teams looking to bolster their rosters, and once a few players went last week the flood gates seemed to open. More contenders had more motivation to acquire players. The evidence is in the deals.

The Mariners took some advantage of this mark, dealing away Dustin Ackley, Mark Lowe, and J.A. Happ. Good on them for doing this. It seems like they could have gone even farther, but maybe not. We will never know what kind of interest there was in Iwakuma or Jackson (or others).